Jackie Chambers was trying to find a way into Friday night’s football game at the Toyota Center.
“I wanted to come in,” Chambers said. “But the doctors wouldn’t let me.”
But the speedy wide receiver did get back into the contest when the third quarter started, and he scored three second-half touchdowns to help the host Tri-Cities Fever open the 2014 Indoor Football League season with a 69-26 over the Wyoming Cavalry in front of 4,407 people in the Toyota Center.
Fever coach Adam Shackleford said that the one guy he didn’t need to get hurt during the contest was Chambers.
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But that’s what happened.
Early in the first quarter, with Wyoming holding a 6-1 lead (the Fever got a 1-point rouge on the opening kickoff when the Cavs failed to return the ball out of the end zone), Chambers was deep to receive.
But he misplayed the kickoff, letting the ball go over his head, where it hit the end zone dasherboards and caromed back towards midfield past him. As he tried to pick up the ball, he and teammate Lionell Singleton inadvertantly collided with each other at full speed.
Chambers lay on the arena floor for several minutes before getting up and leaving the game.
Doctors checked him out for a concussion during the first half, and that changed the way the Fever olffense played the game.
“We were conservative in our play-calling when I got hurt,” Chambers admitted.
Indeed, starting quarterback Dante Warren rarely tried to pass, and when he did look to throw, he’d quickly pull the ball down and run.
As it was, the Fever grinded out a 21-6 first-half lead. Yet the Fever was in control, thanks to a stingy defense that gave up a touchdown on the opening drive but shut down the Cavalry offense the rest of the first half.
“We just wanted to finish what we started off with at the end of last year with the intensity,” said Fever linebacker Boris Lee, who was all over the field. “We needed to make a statement in the first game. We didn’t want to start off slow, and this is a good start.”
But a 21-6 halftime lead had Shackleford nervous.
“We can’t get a false sense of security out here,” said Shackleford. “No offense to Wyoming, but we’ve got the best team in the league (Sioux Falls) coming in here next week and when we look at the game film, we won’t be very happy.”
Chambers convinced the doctors he wasn’t concussed and came out in the third quarter ready to play.
Warren connected twice in the third quarter with Chambers, on scoring strikes of 29 and 20 yards.
“We opened up our playbook a bit,” said Chambers.
Throw in Lee’s block of a Cavalry field-goal attempt, his recovery of such block and running it in for a 5-yard touchdown, and the route was on.
“We lost Jackie,” said Shackleford about his team’s first-half struggle. “We didn’t look good until we got him back. He was the one guy I said we couldn’t lose before the game, and then we do. But that allowed Warren to open up the offense.”
Opened up so much that Shackleford inserted backup quarterback Andre Broadous into the lineup late in the third quarter. He ended up tossing three touchdown passes himself — including a third to Chambers.
And Fever defensive back Lionell Singleton — who was forced to play some receiver in the first half when Chambers went down — intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 22 yards for his 10th career pick-6.
Wyoming coach Ryan Lingenfelder, the former Fever defensive coordinator, felt his team helped the Fever along for the victory.
“It was definitely our first game,” said Lingenfelder. “I thought we were doing good there in the first half. We played football with them. But quite honestly it was our mistakes that led to their great victory. We didn’t execute offensively.”
For Tri-Cities, it was a strong season-opening win.
But more work needs to be done before next Saturday night against the Storm.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Chambers. “We can do a lot better.”